Archive for January, 2010

January 29, 2010

Toronto Community Partnership Strategy: Measuring Community Based Organizations

Do community-based organizations affect the strength of a neighbourhood? The City of Toronto says so.

A new City report argues that community-based organizations allow the municipal government to “extend its service and strategic goals.”

Community organizations are active in almost every area of social, economic, and community life – in health care, education, economic development, social services, employment, training and skills development, financial services, the environment, culture, the arts, recreation, religion, and spiritual pursuits.

In fact, the presence of community organizations across Toronto neighbourhoods is on the verge of being systematically evaluated.

On February 3, the City’s Community Development and Recreation Committee will be examining a newly proposed strategy, the Community Partnership Strategy (CPS).

The CPS would “pilot and assess” a new way of measuring neighbourhoods, and a key part of the strategy will be to map the presence and capacity of local not-for-profit organizations (including faith-based organizations, but not hospitals and schools).

The strategy will start with the measure of access used in the Strong Neighbourhood Taskforce in 2005: % population within 1 km of an appropriate organization. (One kilometre = walking distance)

It’s an easy calculation, but a biased, and therefore faulty, one.

Suburban neighbourhoods are more likely to score as underserved compared to downtown neighbourhoods with more compact and dense populations.

For example, if a suburban has 1,000 residents, of whom only 40%  are near a community organization, 600 people would be unserved. At 40% coverage, the community would be ranked as underserved.

And, if a more densely populated downtown community has 80% of its residents within walking distance of an organization — no matter how small or appropriate those services are—, it looks like it is well-served. However, with a possible population of 10,000, 2,000 people are not getting service.

So which neighbourhood is needier?

The smaller neighbourhood has half the service level of the more populated one (40% compared to 80%).

Yet, the number of unserved residents in downtown neighbourhood (2,000) is twice the entire population in the entire suburban neighbourhood.

A focus on percentages rather than numbers of people explains why neighbourhoods like Parkdale, Regent Park, St. Jamestown and Alexandra Park never were identified as Priority Neighbourhood Areas. By comparison in 2005, they were “overserved.”

The CPS is going to have to do some fast footwork to ensure a more balanced set of measures is used to assess neighbourhoods. And City staff have already indicated they will.

Ground-breaking and insightful thinking has gone into the CPS. It can’t stall here.

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January 20, 2010

Community vitality in Transitions

Community vitality is in focus again, in the current edition of the Vanier Institute for the Family‘s Transition.

Writing the lead article in VIF’s quarterly publication, Katherine Scott provides an overview of the concept of community vitality, describing the evolution of the idea, growing from ‘competent communities’ in the 1960s, through 1990s ‘social capital,’ to present-day’s emphasis on ‘social networks.’

In other pieces in the issue:

Barry Wellman et. al. writes a great piece on internet and communication technologies, arguing that rather than isolating individuals, these technologies are more likely to enhance social relations. Using the example of parents and their children, the authors the tension between connectivity and surveillance which this new technology enables.

Monica Patton, president and CEO of the Community Foundations of Canada, also writes a piece in the issue, selling the strengths of the Community Foundation brand.

The very excellent Katherine Scott, of the venerable (and now seemingly vulnerable) Canadian Council of Social Development (CCSD), has recently moved into her new role at the VIF. [Conflict of interest declaration: decades ago, my uncle headed VIF, an organization which brings a very non-American connotation to the word family].

These national research, policy, and advocacy organizations, such as VIF, CCSD, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and Kairos among others, are all an important part of our civic dialogue and worth supporting.

Buy a membership today. Keep this work rolling.

January 14, 2010

Healthy People, Healthy Places: Stats Can update

This week, Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information have released a retrospective look in the latest issue of Healthy People, Healthy Places to mark the 10th anniversary of the Health Indicators project.

The retrospective look at a range of health determinants. Two quick highlights relevant to neighbourhoods:

  • Canadians’ sense of community belonging has grown over the past decade and now about two-thirds of us report a strong or very strong sense of community belonging. Teenagers reported the highest levels.
  • 13.7% of Canadians lack access to acceptable housing. This is defined mainly as affordability. The stats are broken down by
    • place of residence (by province – Ontario was second worst),
    • housing tenure (owners/renters – renters do the worse) and
    • demographic status (seniors, immigrants, single parents and individuals living alone all faced the most challenges).
January 8, 2010

Toronto Community Partnership Strategy: Priority Neighbourhood Areas revised

What if we could measure the quality of a neighbourhood — systematically assess what’s missing and what’s in place? How could we use that information to ensure each community was strengthened?

Over the past year, City of Toronto staff and invited community members have worked to develop such a tool: that is the Community Partnership Strategy (CSP) [as described, a year ago, in one of the first posts on this blog]. The new strategy, if adopted when presented in the spring to Council, will allow all of the city’s 140 social planning neighbourhoods to be assessed across a range of domains so that priorities for supporting each neighbourhood can be set.

The City of Toronto set out to develop such a tool because, as Chris Brillinger, Director of Social Policy, explained at the end of November during cross-city consultations, “One weak neighbourhood affects us all.”

And more bluntly, he explained, the CSP will help to address when enough is enough, a question raised by Council members who push back at the seemingly continual call for additional community funding. The adoption of the CSP will allow a more systematic response to that question.

Community agencies are interested in the development of this new strategy because of the way the focus on Priority Neighbourhood Areas (PNAs) has funnelled funding into the 13 city areas since 2005. The PNAs created a rush to funding, as agencies followed the dollars and moved into these admittedly under-served areas. Brillinger reassured the crowd about the scope of this exercise, “Moving services from one part of the city to another is not on.”

As a place-based intervention, the PNAs made sense, leveraging scarce resources to address complex problems. As a long term strategy, PNAs are a recipe for starving the rest of the city — and other areas with high needs.

Under the proposed strategy, “focus neighbourhoods” would be identified according to marginalization of the neighbourhood and its residents, the [lack of] structures in place to support them, and the availability and capacity of local services.

The overall strength of the system would be assessed on the following areas:

  • Community Organizations
  • Community Space
  • Connectedness
  • Reach
  • Adaptability
  • Resources

(In future posts, I’ll look more at each of these areas in more depth.)

By looking at the strengths and weaknesses of every neighbourhood, the new CSP will allow a broader analysis of needs across the city. So, for instance, the areas with the highest unemployment rates or the poorest access to food can be identified, or the top ten neighbourhoods deserving youth programming can be threshed out from the top ten requiring additional seniors’ services. Each of these maps may be different,  but they will allow more targeted programming to be delivered where it’s needed.

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